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by danielbarker on 18 May, 2020

Published in Liberal Democrat Voice by Tom Purvis | Thu 14th May 2020 – 12:04 pm

I suspect most of us have seen this article by the Telegraph suggesting that there could be a two year public sector pay freeze to help pay for the £300bn coronavirus bill.

This must not be the case and we must fight tooth and nail to oppose any measure that freezes the pay of the public sector again. Instead, we should push for a double lock on public sector pay.

The pension triple lock was introduced under the Coalition, and was a Lib Dem policy, to help improve the living standards of those who had retired. The public sector double lock should be there to do the same for public sector workers.

I propose that it works in a similar way to the pensions lock, that is either a pay increase of 2.5% or RPI + 1%, whichever is highest. A pay settlement like this will show the 5.4 million people employed in the public sector that we support them wholeheartedly and will help us to recruit more people with diverse experience.

The boost to consumption will be welcome as we need to get people spending money again, money which they can only spend if they have it. Healthcare in particular has seen large productivity increases in the last decade, outperforming some of the private sector, it’s time they were rewarded.

I expect there will be two main pieces of opposition to this proposal. The first is how it will be paid for. The second is that this proposal will also boost the earnings of middle-managers and senior leaders who are already paid above average salaries.

The first criticism was the defining narrative of our politics from 2010 to 2015. Politics has since moved on, as evidence by the Debt Management Office raising multiple billions of pounds worth of bonds at historically low rates and being oversubscribed 3 to 1.

The second criticism is something that we, as pro-universalists, need to get better at addressing. It is a criticism often levied at any policy which is universal, despite its weakness. Yes, middle management will get a pay rise as a result of this, however, the progressive nature of our tax system will mean that those on lower wagers will keep more of the wage rise as a result. Furthermore, the bureaucracy involved with cherry-picking will end up costing more, resulting in more administrative staff rather than frontline staff.

It’s time we support our public sector workforce. The work they do domestically and internationally is imperative in protecting the UK and our allies. It’s time they get the pay settlement they deserve and if COVID-19 hasn’t made you realise how skilled our public services are, not much will.

* Tom Purvis is a member of the Sheffield Liberal Democrats and is standing in the next local elections

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